Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director, Great Lakes Theater Festival
2009 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Theater artists tend to revere ghosts,
and Charles Fee, producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theatre
Festival since 2002, is no exception. Not the boo-scary kind of ghosts,
mind you; rather, the palpable presence of great but deceased
individuals whose memorable contributions to theater came as
playwrights or producers, actors or innovators, directors or designers
. . . or, well, divas.
Fee to elaborate on his affinity for history, and he’ll point to his,
his board’s and his company’s deep love for classical theater, first
and foremost. The mission of Great Lakes Theater Festival (GLTF) has
been and will be to produce the classics: Shakespeare predominantly, as
one might expect, but also the likes of Chekov, Coward, Goldsmith,
Molière, Shaw, Sondheim and Wilde.
stand on the shoulders of the founders of the company and previous
artistic directors who have all brought extraordinarily good work to
this company and built a real tradition of producing the classics in
Cleveland,” Fee asserted.
of a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific and an M.F.A.
from the University of California, San Diego, Fee has worked with such
companies as The Old Globe Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and the Los
Angeles Shakespeare Festival. He also served as artistic director of
the Sierra Repertory Theatre in northern California.
to Cleveland by a faltering GLTF, located in the Ohio Theatre on
Playhouse Square since 1980, Fee welcomed the significant challenge of
restoring the theater to financial health and restoring it to a place
of theatrical prominence in northeastern Ohio. His innovative
approaches to producing theater, including joint productions with the
Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where he has worked as producing artistic
director since 1991, rescued GLTF from serious financial
instability that once threatened the survival of downtown Cleveland’s
primary classical theater
former program director for cultural affairs of The Cleveland
Foundation, Kathleen A. Cerveny, has expressed admiration for Fee’s
ability to bring Great Lakes back to solvency with no loss in artistic
quality. “Great Lakes is one of few performing arts organizations in
Cleveland to not only balance its budget each year, but also to
maintain a level of working capital that safeguards it against
incurring short-term debt and that supports necessary artistic
risk-taking,” she observed. “The consistent positive reviews and the
theater’s growth in audience numbers over time is testament to the
quality and excitement that Charlie has advanced.”
to believe that the the Ohio Theatre was too large, Fee successfully
led a nearly $20 million campaign to renovate PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna
Theatre, an historic Broadway show house, into an intimate,
audience-friendly space with the latest in high-tech production
capabilities, such as hydraulic lifts to raise and lower all or part of
the thrust stage.
the Hanna's storied past, Fee has set an even high bar for GLTF. Its
new home has an inspiring provenance. Built in 1921, the Hanna has
hosted such theater royalty as Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Noel
Coward and Stanislavski and his Moscow Art Theatre.
every major theater artist of the first half of the 20th century in
America and much of Europe played in the Hanna Theatre,” Fee said. “So,
it’s just a huge gift as an artist to work in that space, refurbish
that space and work in a community that supports classic theater.”